Sugar Review: Colin Farrell Shines In A Sweetly Seductive Mystery

Sugar Review: Colin Farrell Shines In A Sweetly Seductive Mystery

EDITORS' RATING : 8.5 / 10

Pros

  • The cast is great
  • Colin Farrell's central performance is wonderful
  • It's steeped in detective story vibes while trying to do something new
  • Visually stylish

Cons

  • The pacing might not work for some viewers hoping for something more propulsive

 

"Sugar" is a series that traffics, early and often, in a very particular vibe; one with roots in a decades-old Hollywood tradition. It is proudly and without reservation a private detective story, placing its title character immediately alongside the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe with a style that blends old-school film noir with New Hollywood realism and a 2020s slickness. The intent is clear: Make a story that feels like a timeless, yet modern, new installment in a vast continuum of stories about lone mystery solvers at work against the dark.

Though the guideposts of this particular story genre are always there and have been there for years, this remains a tall order for "Sugar," a show that has to balance all of those familiar elements with a sense that it's trying to do something new with the formula. It's a lot to live up to, particularly when you consider the very direct links the series makes to Hollywood's private investigator past. The ambition alone is impressive, but what's more impressive is just how well "Sugar" pulls it off. Sleek, witty, and satisfyingly twisty, it's an engrossing new mystery for lovers of the genre and a wonderful showcase for star Colin Farrell.

 

The sweetest private eye

Sugar Review: Colin Farrell Shines In A Sweetly Seductive Mystery

 

Created by writer Mark Protosevich ("The Cell," "I Am Legend"), "Sugar" follows private investigator John Sugar (Colin Farrell) whose job and apparent passion in life is, simply, finding lost people. It's a job he's very good at, but it's also a job that gets him in trouble, particularly with his friend and handler Ruby (Kirby), who thinks he pushes himself too hard and gets too close to his cases. But Sugar's not about to stop helping people, whether that means giving some money to a homeless guy on the street or pursuing kidnappers and missing people to the ends of the earth.

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Sugar's determination brings with it a reputation for getting things done, and that draws the attention of legendary movie producer Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell) who reaches out with a case very close to his heart: His granddaughter Olivia (Sydney Chandler) is missing, and he's counting on Sugar to find her. Because just looking at the girl's picture is enough to remind him of someone he once lost, Sugar agrees despite Ruby's objections and dives into the case. The clues are scant, which means he has to spend the early parts of the investigation leaning on Olivia's family — from her rockstar stepmother (Amy Ryan) to her child star brother (Nate Corddry) and her seemingly cold producer father (Dennis Boutsikaris), all of whom have secrets of their own.

Rooting the early investigation in the layers of Olivia's extended Hollywood family allows Protosevich to luxuriate in certain detective story tropes while also branching "Sugar" out into territory all its own. As you'd expect from a hard-boiled story, narrated by Sugar's own reserved, quiet voice in between conversations, all the secrets of the Siegel family start to emerge, forming pieces of a puzzle that oh-so-slowly coalesces into a bigger picture with Sugar at the center of it all. It's a satisfying riff on a tried-and-true piece of the subgenre, but in this case, it's not the whole story.

In the grand tradition of private eye stories, "Sugar" also focuses some of its mystery on the title character, what drives him, and what gets to him when he tries to get sleep at night. What makes someone like Sugar so devoted to helping others, so preternaturally determined to solve each case? Clearly, there are secrets there, but the show takes its time getting to them. For some viewers, the pacing out of it all might prove a little frustrating, but if you're willing to match the show's pace and luxuriate a little in its character work, you'll find yourself lost in the folds of its ever-growing narrative tapestry, and you won't be able to get enough.

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A Hollywood mystery

Sugar Review: Colin Farrell Shines In A Sweetly Seductive Mystery

 

Visually, "Sugar" also luxuriates in its Hollywood setting, reveling in the flicker of movie screens and the glare of sunlit, palm-lined Los Angeles streets — but there's a twist here too, one that Mark Protosevich and director Fernando Meirelles deploy to great effect. Sugar, you see, is obsessed with the movies. He reads magazines about them, studies them, and watches them over and over. He's deeply immersed in the way that Hollywood churns out dreams, and he loves those dreams, so much so that the show's visuals often flicker with glimpses of past private detectives onscreen. Sugar will be driving somewhere, for example, and you'll get a glimpse of "The Long Goodbye" or "The Big Heat" or any number of other detective movie classics. It adds to the sense that Sugar is a man outside of time, outside of the more disappointing realities of his job and life in the city. For Sugar, in other words, life should be more like the movies, and that means finding happy endings for his clients wherever he can. It's a compelling idea that keeps the show in conversation with its inspirations and adds a layer of extra intrigue to Sugar as a character.

But as great as Colin Farrell is, Sugar's not the only interesting face in this story. Amy Ryan is particularly wonderful as an aging rockstar who's struggling with her own issues while trying to help solve those of others, and James Cromwell is predictably wonderful as an old man who's lost all sense of caring about the world but hasn't lost his love for his granddaughter. Throw in scene-stealing sleaze from Nate Corddry and a spellbinding performance from Kirby, and "Sugar" becomes a surprisingly effective ensemble piece, as well as a compelling character study for the title figure.

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Despite all these elements, "Sugar" won't be for everyone, particularly fans of detective stories that move with the speed of broadcast TV procedurals. It's a show that's taking its time, slowly unfurling its mysteries with the syrupy patience of a caramel drizzle. That might make it a bit too sticky for some viewers, but if you get a taste and you're hooked, know that it only gets better with time.

"Sugar" premieres on Apple TV+ on April 5.

 

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